Emma Coronel Aispuro: Wife of El Chapo pleads guilty to drugs charge

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image captionMs Coronel Aispuro, pictured at her husband's trial in 2019, is accused of helping him run the Sinaloa cartel

The wife of infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has pleaded guilty to a range of charges including conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs.

Appearing in court in Washington, Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, admitted helping Guzmán run the Sinaloa drugs cartel and assisting in his prison escape in 2015.

She could face life in prison and be fined up to $10 million (£7.1 million).

Guzmán, 63, is currently serving a life sentence in Colorado for drug trafficking and money laundering.

Authorities say the Sinaloa cartel was the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

Coronel Aispuro appeared in court wearing a green jumpsuit and white face mask to enter her plea before US District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

She pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs, conspiring to launder money and engaging in financial dealings with the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Coronel Aispuro - who made a plea agreement - also admitted to playing a role in her husband's escape from prison in 2015.

"She is very happy to put this behind her," Coronel Aispuro's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said outside the courthouse.

"She didn't expect to get arrested after her husband received life in prison, so this is obviously a troubling time. But we're going to get past it."

A striking moment

Her voice was quiet but clear in the courtroom. Throughout the hour-long proceeding, she spoke in Spanish and her words were translated into English by an interpreter (I listened to her speak from outside the courthouse, via a telephone conference call).

It was a striking moment: I had met Coronel, one of the most powerful women in narcotrafficking, in New York and watched her smile at photographers as they flocked around her outside the courthouse where her husband was standing trial.

She has now confessed to her own guilt as a participant in the cartel and afterwards the judge made it official.

"I find you guilty as charged," he told her.

A few minutes later, the phone line to the courtroom was disconnected, marking the end of an era for her and for those who have followed her life in the narcotrafficking world.

Guzmán's trial in 2019 heard shocking revelations about his life, from drugging and raping girls as young as 13 to carrying out the cold-blooded murders of former cartel members and rivals.

Coronel Aispuro, a former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC in February and charged with conspiring to distribute 5kg or more of cocaine, 1kg or more of heroin, 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and 1,000kg or more of cannabis, as well as aiding and abetting.

Prosecutors accused her of helping Guzmán to traffic drugs between 2012 and 2014 by relaying messages, and then continuing to deliver messages while visiting him in a Mexican prison after his arrest in February 2014.

Guzmán was sprung from Mexico's maximum-security Altiplano prison via an elaborate tunnel escape. His sons bought a property near the prison, and smuggled in a GPS watch, giving diggers his exact location. Guzmán escaped by riding a specially adapted small motorcycle through the tunnel.

media captionFive facts about Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán

Court documents said Coronel Aispuro was allegedly involved in planning another prison escape for her husband before he was extradited to the US in January 2017.

Who is Emma Coronel Aispuro?

Coronel Aispuro is a dual US-Mexico citizen, a former beauty pageant winner, journalism student and the mother of twins with Guzmán. According to previous interviews given to US media, she first met him at a dance when she was 17 and he was 49.

She attended nearly every day of her husband's three-month trial in New York, during which she heard not only grim accounts of murder and rape, but also claims that he had spied on her and other mistresses.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMs Coronel Aispuro was arrested in February

She came under the media spotlight during that trial.

In one instance, she appeared to laugh during the tearful testimony of one of Guzmán's mistresses. On another day she and Guzmán wore similar velvet jackets, which many people interpreted as a show of solidarity.

She remained supportive of Guzmán throughout, saying at the end of the trial: "I don't know my husband as the person they are trying to show him as, but rather I admire him as the human being that I met, and the one that I married."

Coronel Aispuro was still a teenager when she married Guzmán in 2007. Her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, served as one of Guzmán's top lieutenants before his arrest in Mexico in 2013.

Guzmán came from a poor family in Sinaloa state, north-west Mexico. His organised crime business grew so big that he entered Forbes' 2009 list of the world's richest men at number 701, with an estimated worth of $1bn (£709m).

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